The freelance web designer’s dream is to work with clients they love on projects that excite them for the fees they deserve. Unfortunately, most of the time reality doesn’t look like this. Most freelancers I know work with whoever needs them on whatever projects come along for whatever fees they can negotiate. I believe this is because freelance web pros suffer from an inherent insecurity that comes with being self-employed. That insecurity tends to inform most of their decisions, including when to say “yes” to a gig.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Every time you say “yes” to a gig that doesn’t truly fit within the grand vision of your business you are sacrificing resources (time, effort, and money) that could be spent on attracting the perfect (and more profitable) clients.

I spent years operating a general web design workshop that was “open for business” and would service anyone who walked in the door, so to speak. This eventually bored me out of my mind and drove to me to reevaluate every part of my business. Every tiny detail.

I knew that I wanted to work with clients who were equally passionate about the possibilities of the web as I was and who were prepared to allocate realistic budgets to achieve their vision. However, everything I was communicating to potential new clients was contradictory to my core belief. The following is the result of the process I went through to reposition my business. This is what happens now when a new lead comes across my desk. And it’s working like a champ.

It’s all about qualification.

Let’s call my potential client Stella. The first thing I do is check to see if Stella is connected with me on LinkedIn. If not, I send Stella an email letting her know that, due to demand, I only work by referral, and it would be a good idea for her to connect with me on LinkedIn or ask for an introduction if we are not in the same network. If somebody is not prepared to respect my process at this early stage of the relationship, I am happy for them to move on. (Also read: Leveraging the LinkedIn Test to Define Your Ideal Customer.)

Once we are connected, I send Stella an email requesting that she fill in a worksheet form on my website so that I can get a greater understanding of her project and see if we are a good fit for each other. The website worksheet asks a series of questions about the purpose of the project, the target audience, the client’s definition of success and, most importantly, the budget. I give prospects an easy way to answer the budget question by offering brackets they can choose from. This simple procedure eliminates more than 50% of incoming leads.

“What?!” I hear you scream. “Why would I want to eliminate incoming leads?” The reality that nobody talks about is that most incoming leads are not right for you. If you continue to jump through hoops and reshape your offering every time somebody pops their head up with half a budget to build a half-baked project, you will end up trapped in a business you do not enjoy servicing clients who bore you. Sorry, but it’s true.

If Stella doesn’t fill in the website worksheet, it tells me that she is not ready to embark on this project or that she doesn’t have the budget required to work with me. If Stella does fill in the website worksheet, then I analyze her responses and give her a score based on the budget indicated, how interesting the project sounds, and whether or not Stella has been prepared to follow my process thus far.

At this point, I have not even spoken to Stella. I have not had to invest any time on the phone or having coffee listening to Stella’s grand ideas about her new project and answering all her questions about Pinterest and about which bird Google is going to name its next algorithm update after. If Stella scores well on the scorecard, I will call her and schedule an appointment to meet with her (usually on Skype).

Now I realize this may sound counterintuitive to everything you have ever learned about basic sales and customer service. So, why don’t I want to jump on the phone straight away and start building rapport and nurturing the relationship from the start? Because that time is better spent speaking at conferences, blogging, producing podcasts, video interviewing successful entrepreneurs on Skype, and writing eBooks to attract dozens of my perfect clients every day. This would not be possible if I had to have a conversation with everyone who was interested in working with me on their new website.

If you are genuinely busy, engaged in high value activities–such as publishing great content, networking at functions, and studying your face off to become the best you can be–you will become infinitely more attractive to your prospects than the freelancer who can drop everything and rush to a meeting at the drop of a hat.

The next time you find yourself mid-sentence with a new lead, and you get that feeling in your gut that this is going nowhere, ask yourself what processes you can put in place to free up your time so you can spend it doing something more valuable for your audience and your business.

How are you qualifying your leads?